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2014-15 College Basketball Conference Preview: Big East

Time to get informed about the Big East now that college basketball season is finally upon us. Let's look at the Big East.

Mitchell Leff

With one of the country's best recruiting classes being poured into the Big East, the conference may be close to it's long awaited resurgence after conference realignment a few years ago.

With six teams in the conference (Georgetown, Seton Hall, Villanova, Providence, Creighton and Xavier) all bringing in top-50 recruiting classes this year, the conference could be poised to take a step up for strength of schedule when it comes to conference games and postseason superiority.

Five teams won 20 or more games last season and the bottom five couldn't win more than 17. The conference brought many abnormalities and kept fans guessing all season. Villanova's dominant conference record and Associated Press ranking had many believing they would make a deep run in March, but they were bounced by Seton Hall in Manhattan and then by the eventual National Champion UConn Huskies.

Winning 29 games is no easy feat, despite the lack of postseason dominance, but it did key viewers into one thing: even in a soft year, the Big East still was interesting to watch, especially at season's end. Providence surprised many winning the conference tournament championship.

Creighton, behind Doug McDermott put up offensive numbers that didn't seem possible and then faded to subpar teams after the season. There was talent everywhere across the conference, but just not enough winning to put the conference past the AAC or others in the eyes of national spotlight. This year should, again should, change some heads.

Georgetown, Seton Hall, Xavier and Providence should be competitive this year, but the favorites immediately have to be Villanova. How the end of the season will look, will be anyone's guess.

Scout's Look:

Scout #1

Thoughts on this year's Big East

"I think that Villanova, Seton Hall, Georgetown, Xavier and Providence will all be good. Seton Hall hasn't been good in a while and Villanova has been good as of last season. Creighton lost their best player, but they have a great program and great coaching. Providence has had great recruiting but it's never materialized. Last year Bryce Cotton gave North Carolina a run for their money in the tournament. They've just had some bad luck. Ed Cooley has done a good job trying to elevate their program.

This is going to take time. It's really hard with the realignment and the changes and stuff. I didn't realize the other day that Davidson is in the Atlantic-10 now. Everything is slowly changing. The powerhouses will do their job, but the bottom rung teams, that haven't been great, are up and coming, and that's a lot of what's going on in the Big East now."

In five seconds, name two players that come to mind as dominant for this year in the Big East

"JayVaughn Pinkston from Villanova and an unlikely Kris Dunn from Providence because he hasn't been healthy and was highly recruited out of high school."

What school should shock people in the Big East and who's going to have a down year?

"I hate to sound like a broken record but I'm going to go back to Providence. They've got some transfers there from bigger programs and a good recruiting class, I'm going to go with them. Butler will have another down year with Brandon Miller taking that leave of absence, I don't even know what's going on there. They also had a bunch of guys leave the program. They are going to be towards the bottom.

I also will put some stock on Creighton. Greg McDermott has done a good job there, so let's see what they muster up this season without Doug McDermott."

Scout #2

How do you expect the Big East to shape up this season?

"The Big East in its new form had a very good first year, so the drop off this season will look huge, even though there are still some really good teams.  Villanova is the clear favorite with their four returning starters, but Georgetown will get tougher as the year goes on and Xavier, Providence, and St. John's all have enough talent to compete near the top of the league."

Who's the five best players in the conference?

"There isn't star power like Doug McDermott in this year's league, but there are some quality players. The 5 best are D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, JayVaughn Pinkston, Deonte Burton, Isaiah Whitehead, and Matt Stainbrook. Though you could just as easily swap in D'Angelo Harrison (if he improves his shot selection), Sir'Dominic Pointer, Darrun Hilliard, LeDontae Henton, and even Josh Smith if he in anything close to decent condition."

What should we expect from this freshman class coming into Seton Hall? Will they be the same team we are used to seeing?

"The keys to the class are Whitehead and Angel Delgado and both of them should have an impact right away - Whitehead as a scorer and Delgado as a rebounder. Now I don't expect them to dramatically improve Seton Hall this year, especially with the loss of Fuquan Edwin, but Whitehead will probably put up some big numbers throughout the season and Delgado will do his job on the glass.

Guys like Desi Rodriguez and Khadeen Carrington are probably a year away from having any kind of impact, but the group as a whole should move Seton Hall into the top half of the conference before they are done."

Can the Big East still be a top tier program without any first round NBA quality players?

"Yes. A lot of this is cyclical and the Big East teams will do well again. Marquette has already landed one of 2015's top recruits in Henry Ellenson. Georgetown has a good group of freshmen this year and are involved in some big names in the 2015 class. Creighton is starting to be involved with more top 100 players, as is Xavier. Even without the marquee names, the Big East has a tremendous group of coaches and will put out quality teams year-in and year-out, regardless of individual performances."

Projected Order of Finish

1. Villanova

There's no reason Nova shouldn't be considered the best team in the conference, at least at the beginning of it. No matter how many freshman or the changes in climate of a team, nothing can top 29 regular season wins last year. They bring back four of five starting players and one of the best perimeter attacks in the nation. They have two players with First-Team All Big East talent on their roster and arguably the best bench in the conference. Their downfalls? Defense on the perimeter, and being outplayed in the post. Georgetown could give them an issue there with Issac Copeland this season.

2. Georgetown

Let's make this clear, this is not last season's Georgetown. Not by a long shot from the outside looking in. With the conference's best class and a top-10 class in the country, G-town looks to make a mighty big turnaround in one season. Copeland could contend for Big East Rookie of the Year, but so could LJ Peak or Paul White as well. Not to mention a slew of talented guards and a deep roster for John Thompson III this season. And we get it, last year was abysmal. So bad that the Hoyas 102.1 defensive rating, per KenPom, was the worse in JTIII's coaching career since Princeton in 2003. Mikael Hopkins, D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Jabril Trawick, Aaron Bowen, Copeland and possibly Josh Smith say the Hoyas get 20+ wins this season and contend for the Big East crown.

3. Xavier

What shouldn't be taken for granted is how well Chris Mack has done with this program. An NCAA tournament team despite the fact that it never seemed like the Musketeers could get it together on-court last season. Semaj Christon is gone to the NBA, but Matt Stainbrook is a First-Team All Big East type of player. Combine him with Myles and Dee Davis, Jaylen Reynolds and Treveon Blueitt - another guy in contention for Rookie of the Year, 46th best player in the class - and Xavier is the third best team in a loaded top half of the Big East. Consecutive March Madness berths wouldn't be too much to ask of Mack and the Musketeers.

4. St. john's

This will either be the year St. John's ponies up and shows the conference that it belongs in the top half of it, or this will be another year the Red Storm fall back to mediocrity and play in the NIT. Another consecutive year with loaded talent, but the question is will Steve Lavin make this team mesh with so many players demanding the ball. D'Angelo Harrison will likely score close to 20 ppg and be in contention for POY, that's not the issue though. The best shot blocker in college basketball, Chris Obekpa, is back along with three other returning starters. The team is stacked with guard talent: Harrison, Phil Greene IV, Sir'Dominic Pointer, Rysheed Jordan, etc. St. John's has the potential to be top-3 in the BE, but also have the ability to fall below the top-half of the conference. If that happens then Lavin's days may be numbered.

5. Providence

Last season's Big East Tournament Champions and NCAA Tournament team lost it's biggest piece in Bryce Cotton, who - without a certain Doug McDermott - would have easily been the best player in the conference and maybe even the country. But the Friars bring in a solid recruiting class and retain Kris Dunn who could easily take the conference by storm this year now that he's finally healthy. LaDontae Henton will need to be big for the Friars to stay relevant and with with a few tough non-conference games, they could end up banged up before they even get to conference play. If Dunn can play like a First-Team kind of guy, Providence can probably get through the season in good shape.

6. Seton Hall

Personally, I'd have SHU around fourth because, like Ryan Saccoman, I'm extremely high on the Pirates this season. It's make or break time for Kevin Willard and this might be the year the Pirates go dancing in March. And for anyone who has any reason why they can't, remember how Willard out-coached Jay Wright in the first game of the Big East Tournament.

Moving on, the best freshman in the conference, Isaiah Whitehead, will be lighting it up for Seton Hall this season with a combination of Jaren Sina, Sterling Gibbs, Patrick Auda, Brandon Mobley and Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado getting minutes somewhere in this now-hectic rotation. 17 or 18 wins wouldn't be bad for the Hall, but Whitehead needs to average a chunk of points for them to get into the top three or four teams in the Big East. If Willard can get this lineup in sync, Seton Hall might be the surprise team of the conference this year. Pirates have only been to three NCAA tournaments since 1994, what makes this year a season they can't make that a fourth trip?

7. Marquette

Todd Mayo is gone. Davante Gardner is gone. Buzz Williams is gone. But Wojciechowski (and I didn't have to spell check that) is in and with him a slew of transfers with him. Matt Carlino and Luke Fischer will be big editions to the Golden Eagles this season, even if Fischer won't play for a few months. Deonte Burton and Carlino might make the conference's most deadly backcourt. They'll start slow until Fischer gets back and gives them a solid front court piece, but with a lackluster schedule, it's not too hard to see MU grabbing 15 wins. Some might even shock a few of us.

8. Creighton

The only team that could dismantle Villanova two times last year, will be sitting at the bottom of the basement after losing four starters from a disappointing NCAA Tournament team. Douggy McBuckets will be missed, greatly, but Austin Chatman, Devin Brooks, Will Artino and Avery Dingman should help get Greg McDermott through a rough patch this season. Creighton scored and assisted the most of any team in the conference this year, and the assist totals might stay near the top with Chatman's great ball movement from the top of the key in McDermott's offense. But without a solid 26+ points coming from one player this year, it's safe to say Creighton might stink up the joint for a few games.

9. Butler

Though Coach Brandon Miller is out on medical leave, I can't count out the Butler Bulldogs just yet. The state of the team is absolutely up in the air with no direction right now and no identity. Without Miller the facts remain: Kellen Dunham is one of the conferences best playmakers and Kameron Woods is a monster around the rim. Roosevelt Jones is back this season and could be the Comeback Player of this season. Those three alone should keep Butler out of last place in the league, but without Miller, who knows where they might end up.

10. DePaul

Well, this wasn't a surprise. But, Billy Garrett Jr. is the future for the Blue Demons, if they even have one at all. The conference's best freshman is expected to have an increase in offensive production as one of the team's only option. Tommy Hamilton IV will also play a big role next to Garrett Jr., a big man who has a nice touch and can get it going from 15 feet and in. Myke Henry, a transfer from Illinois, will also be expected to step in and possibly be the best transfer this season in the Big East. Either Oliver Purnell finds a way to win this year or DePaul is in for a new coach sooner than later.

Staff Predicts the Big East


Mike J.

Tyler R. Tynes

Chris Lane

Ryan Saccoman

Larry Flynn
1st Team Darrun Hilliard
JayVaughn Pinkston
Matt Stainbrook
D'Angelo Harrison
D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera
D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera
Darrun Hilliard
Billy Garrett Jr.
D'Angelo Harrison
JayVaughn Pinkston
D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera
Darrun Hilliard
Matt Stainbrook
D'Angelo Harrison
JayVaughn Pinkston
D'Angelo Harrison
D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera
Darrun Hilliard
JayVaughn Pinkston
Matt Stainbrook
JayVaughn Pinkston
Matt Stainbrook
D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera
D'Angelo Harrison
Darrun Hilliard
D'Angelo Harrison
Darrun Hilliard
D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera
JayVaughn Pinkston
Matt Stainbrook
BE POY Darrun Hilliard Darrun Hilliard Darrun Hilliard Darrun Hilliard Darrun Hilliard D'Angelo Harrison
Newcomer of the Year Isaac Copeland Isaiah Whitehead Isaiah Whitehead Isaiah Whitehead Isaiah Whitehead Isaiah Whitehead
Incoming Transfer Matt Carlino n/a Matt Carlino Matt Carlino Matt Carlino Matt Carlino
Comeback POY Roosevelt Jones Roosevelt Jones Kris Dunn Kris Dunn Roosevelt Jones Kris Dunn
Coach of the Year Kevin Willard Jay Wright John Thompson III John Thompson III Jay Wright Jay Wright